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'The Doorbells of Florence' by Andrew Losowsky

The stories overlap and the characters interact to form a unique narrative that is both imaginative and engaging.

April 26, 2009|Stephanie Harnett

A curious cast of characters occupies Andrew Losowsky's "The Doorbells of Florence" (Chronicle Books: 128 pp., $18.95). In these stories inspired by, and illustrated with, photographs from his travels, Losowsky brings these people to life while creating a narrative guidebook to this Italian city via its doorsteps.

Like an overly enthusiastic tour guide, Losowsky finds meaning in every detail: The neat typeface of one nameplate reveals the heartbreak of an unemployed graphologist, while the peculiarly disheveled appearance of another set of doorbells represents a decisive statement of "reverse chic" by that building's wealthy tenants. Every name and adornment has significance. The stories here overlap and the characters interact to form a unique saga that is both imaginative and engaging. At times, however, the narratives are a bit too far-fetched, and it becomes obvious that although the photographs are real, the stories couldn't possibly be.

Behind one doorbell, for example, a retired acrobat inhabits a three-story tangle of tightrope; behind another, a tall and clumsy private detective operates a not-so-private business as the "Undertaker of Debt."

All the while, a mysterious figure shuffles through the city placing coins in the hands of unsuspecting passersby. His identity and purpose become clear only in the final vignette, and as it turns out, this strange figure is content to spend his days "creating a whole new Florence in his mind," much like Losowsky himself.

With this book, the author frees his characters from reality and offers them "a moment of freedom from the ordered world that was holding them back." He offers readers the same. It's a breath of fresh air for those willing to lose their grip on rationality and accept Losowsky's sometimes outrageous sensibility.

-- Stephanie Harnett

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